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Cell Phones in Costa Rica

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Currently, only Costa Rican citizens and legal residents may apply for traditional cell phone lines, though prepaid cell phones are available to tourists and non-residents. Corporations (S.A.’s), even those owned by non-residents, may also purchase fixed cell phone lines. GSM and 3G lines are supported and available for purchase.


There is a high demand for cell phone lines, so availability usually comes in waves. ICE releases a set number of lines every few months, and also re-releases unpaid lines periodically. You can join ICE’s waiting list, which is utilized when current, unpaid lines are repossessed. You may apply either in your own name, or in the name of your Costa Rican business or corporation.

Before getting a cell phone line, you must first buy an approved cell phone. If you purchase one in the United States, make sure that it is unlocked. After paying a 12,500 CRC ($25) activation fee, ICE will provide you with a SIM card – put the card into your phone, and within a few hours, you will have a working line.

How to Get a Cell Phone: A Guide

Costa Rica, Where the Signal is as Good as It's Views

How to Get A Cell Phone

Option 1:

If you are not a Costa Rican citizen or legal resident, you can ask a friend or family member who is a legal resident to obtain an extra cell phone line in their name. Keep in mind that only the owner will have authorization to make changes to the line.


Option 2:

The second method is to open a company known as an S.A. – pronounced “essay-ah”. This stands for Sociedad Anonima, which is a corporation that can operate exactly like a legal resident. With an S.A., you can acquire a cell phone line in your company’s name and avoid the hassle of bothering your Costa Rican friends.


Option 3:

Non-residents can purchase a prepaid SIM card (through Claro, Kolbi, Movistar and other companies) for their unlocked cell phone. If you purchased your phone in the States, it may be locked to a U.S. carrier. Call the company that you purchased it from and ask for an unlock key so your Costa Rican SIM card can function. Unlock codes are also available on eBay for about $10. All you need is the phone model and serial number.

Prepaid Cell Phone Options in Costa Rica: Kolbi, Claro, and Movistar

With Kolbi, a prepaid service available at the Juan Santamaria International Airport, prepaid SIM cards up to 2,499 CRC ($5) expire in 30 days and cards charged up to more than this amount expire within 60 days, regardless if all of the credit has been used. They are available at local ICE offices and Kolbi hotspots. Recharge cards and electronic pins are also available at authorized dealers throughout the country. For those who live in the San Jose area, you can buy prepaid cards at the international airport. Local rates are slightly more expensive than normal lines, at about 6.5 cents per minute during the day and 5 cents at night.


Claro and Movistar also offer prepaid cell phone plans. SIM cards cost 2,500 CRC (less than $5) to purchase, and that same credit amount comes preloaded on the card. Minutes are billed at about 28-34 CRC (5.5-6.8¢) each. You can recharge your SIM chip online, via telephone, or at prepaid hotspots around Costa Rica.


Option 4:

There are several companies that rent Costa Rican cell phones to tourists at reasonable daily and weekly rates.

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Paying Your Cell Phone Bill

All cell phone bills, except prepaid lines, are due monthly. Most pay-by dates are set for the end of the month (usually the 25th or 30th), though the exact due date depends on each account. Prepaid lines are due when the credit expires; if you do not recharge your phone within five days of expiration, you will lose the line.


ICE usually texts the monthly bill to each subscriber a week or two before the bill is due. Cell phone users may also dial 1187* from their phone to obtain a monthly balance (Spanish only).


Paying your cell phone bill is very easy. If your Costa Rican bank offers online bill pay, simply follow their instructions. If you prefer to pay in person, head to the nearest supermarket (try Mas X Menos, Auto Mercado or Pali), bank or ICE office. At supermarkets, look for a Servimas center, usually located near the front registers, or a regular checkout counter. Generally, bills may be paid in cash only.

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